In 1952, Death Valley Days made the transition from radio to television. I really enjoyed seeing the Twenty Mule Team haul the ore through Furnace Creek to the rail head at Barstow. The haunting bugle call reminded me of TAPS and really captured the lonely harshness of the territory. I have the model atop my bookcase and two photographs in my bedroom. A friend, a steelworker with dexterous hands, put plastic together. The whole thing cost only three dollars but it is a professional job sitting on a varnished piece of wood. I have met some fine people along the way.
For the role of the kindly Old Ranger, the Borax Corporation chose veteran character actor Stanley Andrews. His affable introductions and friendly manner gave the impression he was telling you a story he remembered from way back. He got a his share of fan mail and visitors during his 12 years with Borax. Most of the folks never heard of Stanley Andrews but merely wanted the see the Old Ranger.
He gave you the details before the show, did commercials, and summed up the end. The actress Borax used to promote the product was Rosemary DeCamp, a beautiful lady with a marvelous soothing voice. Her beauty was a more motherly type that appealed to housewives. DeCamp was often in the store, at home washing clothes with her four real life girls, or in a formal evening gown. In this last outfit, DeCamp was showing her flower vase just washed with Borax.
Ruth Woodman, from Rye, NY, wrote the stories after her many visits west. She claimed that every episode had some basis in fact. My two books on western history, Tony Hillerman’s Best of the West and Irving Stone’s Men to Match My Mountains include some of the stories. I suggest these books to historians of our west.
After seeing Andrews as the Old Ranger, we noticed his many roles in the movies. Although he played in a series on Frank Capra films in the thirties, Andrews was generally in the western genre. His two most memorable roles were in the Old West but critics and writers consider them drama. Oddly enough, both were not credited but he made the most of the them.
In the 1941 classic, the the Ox Bow Incident, he played Bartlett, a vindictive member of the lynch mob. He gave a memorable monologue inciting the men to pursue three rustlers who also murdered a local rancher. His arm gestures were emphatic as he held a stogie. Andrews was very noticeable during the pursuit. Once the bullying mob found the three men, Andrews cruelly questioned and taunted the three men. After the lynching, the sheriff arrives and tells the group there was no murder and they caught the three rustlers. Andrews’ has a glum brooding look as he drowns himself in whiskey. This mean character bears no relationship to the Old Ranger, 11 years along the road.
In 1946, Stanley Andrews played the sheriff in a big scale drama, the Sea of Grass. This was a generally faithful telling of the Conrad Richter novel. Spencer Tracy, the powerful cattle baron of Salt Fork NM, marries Katherine Hepburn, a St Louis belle. Andrews goes well in his role with his presence and commanding voice. This movie was not about good farmers versus the mean cattlemen. It showed the virtues and vices, hopes and frailties of each group matched against inevitable historical trends. There was almost no action, a great supporting cast, and even in black and white, it had some beautiful scenery. During his time as the Old Ranger, Andrews shunned movies but did moonlight on several TV shows.
Andrews retired in 1964. Death Valley Days become colorized, Ronald Reagan was the host, and the show lost its appeal to me-a vertical free fall. Death Valley Days enabled Reagan to stay in the public eye before becoming Governor of California. Robert Taylor, another slimy character, become the host after Reagan left for politics. They were a real pair a dangerous right-wingers. Taylor wrecked many reputations during the blacklisting period. The House Un American Activities Committee was contrary to every principle this nation should promote.
To return to the better back and white versions. Borax still retained the reissued versions splicing in new hosts, titles, and beautiful new musical scores. Local stations had complete latitude regarding times they aired the stories the sponsor used. The caveat-stations had to show Borax commercials at certain peak hours.
The new titles and hosts-The Pioneers with Will Rogers Jr., Western Star Theater with Rory Calhoun, and Trails West with Ray Milland. I do not know who composed the new music but the scores make great listening.
I wish the all of the videos were available.